Corruption-accused former president Jacob Zuma said Parliament is “destructive” in terms of nation-building and social cohesion.
Zuma was among the panellists discussing the ANC’s policy document on social cohesion and nation-building on Sunday.
This past week, Zuma’s name was often heard in the National Assembly chamber, when a joint sitting of Parliament debated his successor’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Opposition speakers, bar the EFF, criticised President Cyril Ramaphosa for saying Zuma needed time and space as he defied the Constitutional Court by refusing to appear before the Zondo Commission.
On the other hand, EFF leader Julius Malema repeated Zuma’s unsubstantiated claims that some judges took money from the CR17 campaign.
ANC speakers said the Constitution must be respected and that the rule of law must apply to all, while Justice Minister Ronald Lamola defended the judiciary against rumour-mongering attacks.
Zuma didn’t address the issues surrounding the Constitutional Court and the Zondo Commission at all.
Speaking first during the well-attended virtual meeting, he outlined and provided historical context to the ANC’s policy document on social cohesion, which advocated public forums to discuss social cohesion and nation-building.
He said Parliament is one of the most important forums for these dialogues.
“Unfortunately, the focus of the parliamentary debates is geared towards achieving short-term electoral advantages in the main. The atmosphere does not give an impression to the public that a united and cohesive country is possible,” he said.
“Many citizens do not understand the antagonistic style and become disillusioned when they see what comes across as downright hostility among political parties, and the disrespect on their television screens.
“What leaders project in action is very important – and the ANC, as the leader of society, needs to reflect on this matter and ponder how we can build a society where leaders can disagree robustly without being disrespectful.”
He said Parliament, as an open and public institution, is not helping the debate on social cohesion and nation-building.
“At times, some people think it is very destructive, because people swear at each other, do every kind of thing. It is not, in a sense, contributing to nation-building.”
He also said he doesn’t think Parliament reflects South African citizens.
“There is less content in the discussions. How do we move forward, building a nation and a cohesive society? That debate is not there in Parliament. Therefore, they are not necessarily, in my view, representing the citizens who are looking at them, wanting to hear what hopes do they give, how they make progress, etcetera.
“In old democracies, they can deal with that clearly, as if they are fighting. I think, with us, we have not yet reached that point. We think that, in order to deal with them, we need to shout at them, use insults at times, etcetera.”
He said voters have the power to remedy the situation.
Zuma’s comments are reminiscent of the times, during the Fifth Parliament, when he would complain about the conduct of opposition MPs after his question sessions in the National Assembly.
Zuma, who was president for almost nine years, also said, as a government, the ANC has moved away from its own policies.
After he introduced Zuma, former minister Jeff Radebe, who chaired the discussion, asked jokingly whether there is still any tea left at Nkandla’s tuck shop, in reference to recent visits to Zuma by Malema, the MKMVA and Police Minister Bheki Cele.
“Don’t worry, the tea is still there to be used by those who want to come to Nkandla. Don’t worry, they can come, we’ll have it.